Of Earth and Acid, or why you really should keep your Book of Shadows in the shadows (Part 3: Color)

I think like most Pagans and other esoteric people, I’m a glutton for fancy books, and when I picture a personal grimoire, I always imagine an illuminated manuscript—something like a medieval book of hours.

Black Hours (18v/19r); New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 493. Retrieved from WikiMedia Commons.

I’ve talked about the papers and writing tools that go into making a good book, but a good magical tome needs color, so I wanted to finish this series by talking about the best ways of adding color to a book.


One of the first ways people like to add color to a grimoire is through some kind of staining to make the paper look aged. The most common types of staining media are tea and coffee, which are cheap and readily available. The one thing to remember here is that both can be acidic, especially coffee. And as I mentioned in part one, the last thing you want is to turn your paper acidic. Fortunately, some bookbinders have come up with solutions. I recommend checking out this video from Nerdforge where they make a book out of coffee-stained paper. They deal with the acid problem by adding baking soda to the coffee until it’s pH-neutral. Litmus test paper is easy to find through Amazon, so doing this at home would be cheap and simple. In theory, you could also use ground up white Tums antacid tablets to neutralize the acid. Tums are made out of calcium carbonate, which I mentioned in part 1 is the buffer used in a lot of archival papers. I don’t think I’d dry the paper in the oven they way they do in the video, though.

If that’s too much hassle, you could also just buy paper that’s toned tan.


Paint: The absolute best option for creating color artwork is going to be watercolor. Watercolor is extremely archival. It will last for hundreds of years at least if you take moderately good care of it, and it gives you nice, vivid colors without a lot of trouble or any additional mediums or solvents needed, just water. It’s also made from far more natural materials than something like acrylic media. This is also true for gouache, which is very similar to watercolor, but thicker and more opaque. The only drawback is that watercolor and gouache are water soluble, so you have to make sure not to get any water on dry watercolor art. I’m not bothering to recommend a brand here, because honestly even the little watercolor trays kids use in school are good.

Ink: There are also pigment-based colored inks, like Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Inks, which handle a lot like watercolor, but are mostly waterproof when dry.

Colored Pencils: Colored pencils are popular with many people, because they avoid a lot of the mess of paint or ink, and they’re more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily artists. The problem with colored pencils is that standards are pretty low for them. They’re wax-based, and wax isn’t very archival—it will probably eat away at your paper over time. They also tend to have low lightfastness ratings, which means that the color will fade gradually as it’s exposed to light. If you have to use colored pencils, Derwent Graphitint pencils seem to be some of the best when it comes to lightfastness, and their composition means they’re probably lower in wax content than other pencils. They are also water soluble, so you can draw with them and then use a wet brush to blend and intensify color. Prismacolor pencils, which are the most popular colored pencils, are very waxy, and don’t even seem to have a lightfastness rating.

What I Don’t Recommend

The main things I don’t recommend are dye-based colors. This includes bottled dye-based inks and popular drawing tools like Copic markers and other alcohol or water-based markers. They can be fun to play with and they blend well, but dye-based ink colors will start fading right away, often looking much duller within a matter of months.

I also don’t recommend things like pastels and oil paints. They can have great lightfastness and produce beautiful artwork, but being oil-based, they’re destructive to surfaces like paper and fabric unless the surface is primed with gesso, which wouldn’t be practical for book pages.

Finally, I’d avoid acrylic paint. Acrylic ink is probably fine, but the paint is thicker, and if you have acrylic paint on two pages facing each other, they might stick together.

Of Earth and Acid, or why you really should keep your Book of Shadows in the shadows (Part 2: Writing Tools)

In my last post, I covered archival papers and books for grimoires, books of shadows, and other magical writings. There are lots of options beyond the specific books and papers I mentioned, so don’t feel like you have to stick to just those options. I’m also happy to answer any questions.

But a book is really no good if you can’t put something in it. The primary thing in a magical tome is usually writing, so in this post I want to tackle the various writing tools you might use. The good news here is that there are lots of archival options that are very easy to work with.

Like my last post, this is not sponsored by anyone, so I don’t have any ulterior motive in recommending these items. Most of the links below are to Dick Blick, which is where I usually buy art supplies, but you should be able to find most of them at any art supply store or online through Amazon or other websites.


By far the most archival option for writing is the pencil. Sure, you can buy artist’s pencils, but really your average, everyday No. 2 pencil will work. A typical pencil is made out of graphite and clay, so it’s very pH-neutral, and really won’t fade or destroy the paper over time. The main concern with pencils is that they can smudge, but this is easy to deal with.

Pencils come in a range of different hardnesses. B pencils are softer (2B is somewhat soft, 4B is softer, 8B or 9B is about as soft as graphite gets). H pencils are harder, the higher the number, the harder they are. For magical books, stick to a lead between HB and 2H. These leads (HB, H, 2H, etc.) are harder and won’t smudge much. They’re also easier to erase if need be. I wouldn’t recommend going any harder than 2H. At that point, the lead is so hard you might tear your paper. Like I said, a standard No. 2 (which is equivalent to an HB) is probably your best bet.

As far as erasers, a lot of artists prefer kneaded rubber erasers, which won’t leave bits of rubber behind. Traditional erasers are also fine.

If you do decide to go the artist pencil route, I’d recommend staying away from Derwent graphite pencils. Derwent uses wax rather than clay as a binder in their leads, and I doubt the archival quality of wax, which is usually petroleum-based. This is also why I don’t recommend colored pencils, but more on that in part 3 of this series, which will cover color.

Pens and Inks

If you’re like me, you prefer to do your writing with a pen. There’s something about the way a pen–especially a roller ball pen–glides over the page, and its permanence, that’s appealing. But like so many common tools we all use, they’re not the best. Roller ball and gel pens use dye-based inks. These inks are great for everyday writing needs, but they’re not designed to last. Those inks will fade over time and gradually become unreadable. Some may also be acidic.

In terms of ink, what you want is a pigment-based ink. The most archival ink is India ink, which is made from water and carbon black from burned plant matter. It doesn’t really fade over time, and is very pH-neutral. In fact, the oldest inscribed papyrus from ancient Egypt, written over 4500 years ago, was written with a type of what we now call India ink.

You can work with India ink in several ways. If you want to be very old school, try using a classic dip pen. Speedball makes a variety of different pens and nibs that aren’t very expensive, and writing with them isn’t too hard with a little practice. But if that’s too much trouble, you can also buy pigment liner pens. These are as easy to write with as any pen or marker, and you can get them in a wide variety of widths, to make your marks as wide or as fine as you want. They also come in wide chisel tips that are designed for calligraphy, and brush tips that are good for drawing and Asian writing systems. You can also apply India ink with a brush, and you can dilute the ink with water to get varying shades of gray for a monochrome watercolor look in drawings.

Finally, you can use a fountain pen. These give you much the same feel as the classic dip pen, but without all the dipping. If you use a fountain pen, don’t use the standard cartridges (which are dye-based). Get a converter cartridge for your pen and fill it with a pigment-based ink. DO NOT put India ink in your fountain pen, as India ink is too thick and will clog the pen.


For pencils, most brands will do just fine, but I recommend staying away from Derwent graphite pencils.

I use a Speedball dip pen. There are lots of different options, but their Calligraphy Project Set is a good one to start with.

I’ve had a good experience with Blick Black Cat Waterproof India Ink. Speedball also makes a good waterproof India ink.

For colored India inks, I like Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Inks, which are pigment based and very resistant to fading.

For pigment liners there are several good brands. Faber-Castell’s line of Pitt Artist Pens and Big Brush Pens are great. I also like Staedtler Pigment Liners, and Pigma Micron Pens.

I have less experience with fountain pens, but the ink of choice for serious fountain pen users is Noodler’s Ink, which comes in a variety of colors.

Next time, I’ll take a look at different ways to add color to your book.

Of Earth and Acid, or why you really should keep your Book of Shadows in the shadows (Part 1: Paper and Books)

One of the things I try to make sure of on this blog is that my posts (or at least a fair number of them) are actually useful to people, rather than just accounts of what’s going on in my life at the moment. Now, I don’t expect a lot of people to emulate my specific practices–Pagans are a creative bunch, so we tend to come up with our own–but it occurred to me recently that I do have some knowledge that a good number of Pagans could benefit from. My background is in the visual arts, and after graduating from art school, I found my way to working in the archives and cultural heritage field, dealing with sometimes centuries-old books and documents. Between those two fields of education and experience, you learn a lot about archival preservation–that is, how to make documents last a really, really long time.

I see a lot of posts about Books of Shadows and other personal grimoires and magical books. I’ve seen people do impressive artwork, write beautiful poetry, and design interesting rituals in their books. What troubles me about these posts is not the books themselves. I don’t label anyone “fluffy” or belittle their practices just because they’re not what I’m drawn to. What troubles me is the thought that many of these volumes, through no real fault of their creators, won’t last more than a few decades. So I thought I’d post some tips about how to make your books or manuscripts last as long as possible. I’m going to include links to some products as well. This post is in no way sponsored, so I have no vested interest in recommending these products.


Whether they’re in books or loose sheets, not all papers are created equal. All papers deteriorate over time, but some deteriorate much faster than others. You need to consider a few things with paper.

Acidity: Some papers (especially common notebook and printer paper) are acidic. Acidic papers will break down rather quickly. Acid-free papers are much better, however, even acid free papers can become acidic by absorbing acidic elements from the air (yes, there is acid in the air you’re breathing right now). You can tell when paper absorbs acid, because the paper will gradually start to turn yellow at the edges. There are, however, papers that are buffered with calcium carbonate, which is literally an antacid for your paper; it neutralizes acid as it’s absorbed, so the paper remains pH-neutral.

Lignins: Lignins are natural polymers in the cell walls of some plant matter that make the cell walls stronger. The problem is, they break down over time. In paper, lignins breaking down causes the paper to become brittle. If you’ve ever handled old paper that broke apart in your hands, it was probably full of decaying lignins. Fortunately, there are a lot of good papers that are both acid-free and lignin-free.

Fibers: Longer, more durable fibers are better. Most papers today are made from wood cellulose. In acid and lignin-free forms, wood cellulose paper is pretty good, but the best fiber for paper is cotton.

Weight: Weight refers to how heavy or thick the paper is. A lot of people are understandably confused by paper weights, because sometimes a 90lb paper is lighter than a 60lb paper. Here’s the secret: look for the paper’s grammage, which is its weight in grams per square meter (gsm). If you’re going to be adding ink, watercolor, or any wet media to your paper, make sure it’s over 130gsm. If you’re going to be adding multiple layers of wet media, go heavier.

Surface: Papers are rough or smooth to varying degrees. For magical books, a smoother surface (called smooth, or plate) is probably best. Rougher papers aren’t very good for writing.


Strathmore 500 series mixed media paper (acid-free, lignin-free, 100% cotton). Comes in hardcover or softcover book form. This paper will stand up to ink and light washes of watercolor.

BFK Rives paper (acid-free, 100% cotton). Comes in several different weights and tones. Heavyweight Rives is suitable for serious watercolor paintings.

Legion Stonehenge paper (acid-free, lignin-free, 100% cotton, and buffered). Probably the best paper in archival terms. Comes in several different tones and two different weights.

There are lots of good bookbinders out there, many of them on Etsy, who can make books out of whatever paper you desire, which brings me to…


For books, consider a few things. First, you want a book with a sewn binding. Perfect bound books (which are glued together) won’t work well, as they don’t lie flat and the spines will break over time. Coptic bindings (where the sewn spine is exposed) lie flat the best, but a normal sewn spine is tougher and less vulnerable to damage.

Secondly, avoid books that have some kind of strap closure, like Moleskine books. The strap puts pressure on the covers and will warp them over time.

Third, avoid books that have a cover made out of nothing but a piece of leather. They look cool and rugged, but leather can transfer acid to the paper it’s in direct contact with, not to mention that eventually it can break down in a process called red rot.

Tips for Book Care

Store books upright, not flat on their sides.

Keep the book in a cool, dry place. Heat and humidity can damage it over time.

Keep it closed when not in use, to prevent light damage. Over time, light (especially sunlight) will cause artwork and writing to fade.

If you want to protect the cover from light, consider using an archival box. Archival boxes are great for loose papers as well. Gaylord Archival makes some good archival boxes.

Keep your hands clean and dry when you handle the book. As long as your hands are clean and dry, there’s no need to wear gloves or anything like that. Sweat, dirt, and smudging are what you actually need to worry about. During ritual, try to put some distance between your book and any flame, smoke, or moisture.

Finally, photograph each page of your book if you’re comfortable doing so. That way, if anything happens to it, the writing and artwork isn’t completely lost. Newer phone cameras will often have a camera that can do a decent job of this.

Next time, I’ll tackle writing tools.

2020 Update

Sometimes I forget that I have a blog with 58 followers.  Now, I don’t imagine anyone is hanging on my every word or desperately waiting for my next post.  Quite frankly, I hope everyone’s life is more exciting than that.  Still, I’m grateful for the fact that people out there somewhere are interested enough to read my posts, or at least glance at them, so I feel a little guilty when I look at how long it’s been since my last post.

Not long before quarantine started, I hit the brakes on my Feri studies.  My teacher had stated that I was ready for initiation (although for several years circumstances seemed to prevent that initiation happening).  In that time, I became more and more aware of the feeling that the initiatory current of Feri was not a good fit for me, and neither were a few of the more gnostic elements of the tradition.  I realized that if I took initiation, I would be doing it so that I could say I was initiated, not so that I could teach it or even practice it.  And I had too much respect for the tradition and its initiates to reduce it to a trivial status.

So now I’m in the boat of taking the many things I learned and adapting them into a form that works for me, by combining them with my other areas of study (like Druidry and trad craft), and my personal gnosis from the past 12 years.  Some interesting things have resulted, and maybe I’ll post about those in the future when they’re more developed.

In Druidry, things have been changing as well.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember a project I called Draíochta.  (This name was actually a mistake–it should be Draíocht.  What can I say?  My Gaelic is beginner-level at best.) I haven’t worked on it in a long time, but I keep it in the back of my mind, like so many other things.

I started my Druidical study in ADF, where the emphasis is on devotional work and Indo-European studies.  Though I still have a lot of respect for that, I’m now exploring British traditions like OBOD and BDO.

Masonically, I’m going into another year as a senior officer in several different groups.  2020 has been an interesting year for us Masons, as our tradition requires a lot of in-person meetings.  We’ve made up for our inability to meet in person by having lectures and discussion groups online.  Even though we can’t confer degrees that way, we can keep doing what we do as Masons, which is supporting, educating, and encouraging each other to be better.  At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.



Probably the most consistent question I get is, “What are you reading?”

Right now, I’m reading The Secret of the Temple by John Michael Greer. It’s a nice bridge between the Pagan and Masonic worlds for me, which often feel like they’re separated by a rather wide chasm.

I finished Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane a few weeks ago. Actually, I’m reading this one and the book by Greer for a lecture I’m writing for one of the Masonic bodies I’m a member of. I’m also working my way through Piers Vaughan’s Renaissance Man and Mason with a Masonic group.

Other than that, I’ve been reading some entries on Theoi, which is a great resource if you’re interested in Hellenic gods. I’m also looking to score a copy of Philip Freeman’s Celtic Mythology, which seems like it has a really great presentation of the ancient Celts and how we know what we know about them.

I’m always looking for new books, so if you have any books to recommend, let me know in the comments below.


This weekend I did some traveling to visit my family. I think I’m like most people in my love-hate relationship to travel. You’re inevitably crammed into a small space with less leg room than you want, and the trip always seems to be exactly one hour too long. My trip has included a fifteen-minute walk, a half hour ferry ride, another half hour on the subway, another fifteen minutes of walking, and a bus trip, plus repeating the whole process in reverse after two days.

Yet I love to travel. Almost no matter where I’m going, I enjoy it. As a kid I could sit and stare out the window of the car for hours on family road trips, and I have lots of good memories of car games with my sisters. I saw a lot of America that way, through the tempered glass of a car window. My love of experiencing new places never dissipated, and although I don’t usually think of myself as intrepid, it gave me a certain resolve that helped me with challenges like moving to New York with only two bags right after college. When travel is central to who you are, you find that in a way you’re most comfortable when you’re on the move, even when being on the move is uncomfortable.

When you travel, you bring certain things with you and pick up other things along the way. Some of them are physical items, like the Masonic tie I bought a few weeks ago in another state, or the one pound coins I brought back from Britain twelve years ago and gave to my family.

Some of those things, though, are in the mind. You let go of some old ideas, keep others, and adopt some new ones. It happens whether you want it to or not, although having an open mind will make the process less painful.

Eclipse Update

Hi everyone!  It’s been a while and I’ve missed this blog.  A lot has been going on in life, so I wanted to give an update for those of you who are still following.

First off, I’m writing a book!  I’ve threatened to do it before.  This time, though, it’s actually happening.  I’m on chapter three of a book about meditation for Pagans.  I realized that while there are lots of great books on meditation out there, most of them are written from an eastern (usually Buddhist) perspective, or they go for a kind of generic therapeutic western mindfulness approach.  As for Pagan books, there are several good ones on trance work and altered states of consciousness, but that’s not the same as meditation.  I thought it was high time for a good Pagan book on the subject, so I’m making the attempt myself.  I’ll share some excerpts in the future.

The only problem is now I have so many other ideas for books, and so little time to write.

My Faery (Feri) coven has been going through some changes.  We’re a coven (or technically grove, since two of us are students) of three, and one of my covenmates just moved upstate for an excellent career opportunity.  That’s great for him, but it will complicate things going forward.  Still, we all agreed that we want to keep going, and we’re going to make it work.  The upshot is that we’ll probably be able to do some outdoor rituals upstate in the near future, which I’m excited about.

Masonically, I’ve been busy.  I’m moving up the officer’s line in my lodge, which means more responsibility.  I love it though.  Masonry is such a beautiful thing, and the ritual and fellowship have become cornerstones (pun intended) of my life, so I don’t mind devoting a lot of time to it.  I’m also an officer in my Royal Arch chapter, and I just got invited to an invitation-only Masonic body that I can’t say much about.

I’ve been reading David Abram’s Becoming Animal, which is a great book that every nature-oriented Pagan should read (although his prose gets a bit over-the-top sometimes).  I’ve also been reading Vivianne Crowley’s The Magical Life.  What can I say?  I found it in a used book store for $5, and I have a soft spot for the eclectic Wiccan books everyone loves to criticize lately.

Finally, on a lighter note, I got a chance to watch the eclipse today.  New York wasn’t the best place to be viewing it (from here it was only partial) but it was still amazing.  My coworkers whipped up (well, made our intern whip up) some pinhole projection viewers since we couldn’t get our hands on any eclipse glasses.  It was a nice way to start off the week.

I hope everything is well with all of you.  And if you’re in America, I hope you got a chance to see the eclipse.  I have to say, fall is my favorite season, both climatically and magically, and the eclipse felt like a great beginning to it.

Prayer Beads


Just for fun I thought I’d post another ritual item I’ve made.  This set of prayer beads is made from snowflake obsidian beads with tiny ice flake quartz beads used as spacers.  The key bead is a ceramic scarab from Egypt, which was a gift from a friend.

In many forms of Witchcraft it’s traditional for the women—especially the High Priestess—to wear necklaces, even when working skyclad.  Faery is generally more gender fluid, though, so in my coven we all wear beads—male, female, and trans alike.


Finished Fresco Box

A while back I posted a few pictures of a little fresco box I was working on to honor one of the Mighty Dead.  I just realized recently that I never posted pictures of the finished work.  IMG_1626



In addition to the frescos on the inside, I added some things to the exterior.  The symbols were burned into the wood.  Next I painted the top and bottom of the box with gouache, and sealed the whole thing with multiple coats of olive oil.

The top shows the Pearl Pentacle and the bottom shows the Iron Pentacle.  The four sides of the box are burned with six-pointed stars; as this symbol contains the traditional glyphs for all the elements, it signifies elemental balance.